by Carlo Santos,

Short-Tempered Melancholic


Short-Tempered Melancholic GN
Love comes about in many different ways in this collection of short stories. The title story, "Short-Tempered Melancholic," tells of a young kunoichi who finds herself wavering between her ninja discipline and her growing affection for a boy at school. "This Love Is Non-Fiction" puts a shôjo spin on Cyrano de Bergerac as a girl sends in her attractive friend to woo a penpal—and accidentally sets the wheels of romance in motion. In "Rainy Afternoons Are For Romantic Heroines," a high-schooler keeps forgetting her umbrella in hopes of sharing one with the boy she likes, and "The Style of Second Love" shows what happens when a girl slowly comes to like the boy that she keeps turning away.

Famous manga artists are usually best known for their multi-volume series—but take away the long-running storylines, the shifting character relationships, the cliffhangers from one chapter to the next, and what you're usually left with is a creator's heart and soul. As it turns out, Arina Tanemura's soul is powered by youthful romance, and this short story collection explores it from a number of different angles. There aren't many surprises to be found here: the couple of attempts at plot twists are detectable from a mile away, and you get one guess as to how each story ends. But for fans of the "Arinacchi style"—as expressed in her florid art and super-sweet storytelling—this is an unflinching dose of cute, designed to awaken the heart-fluttering schoolkid in all of us.

To call this a collection of one-shots is actually a bit of a lie—the main story comes in two parts, with the romantic angle not really arriving until the second half. Interestingly, "Sweet-Tempered Melancholic" deals out a fair share of action as well, and readers will discover fight scenes involving a clever use for a hair-tie, as well as an impassioned battle for love. Comedy also comes in occasional spurts, with evil ninjas popping out of the background to seize "the secret weapon" and immediately failing in various slapstick ways. By contrast, "This Love Is Nonfiction" is something more conventional, but the story's main conceit—that the main girl has sent in her friend as a stand-in on a date—is a near-foolproof formula anyway, and manages to keep the fun and the tension running high as the characters try to cover up their lies. It's unfortunate, then, that this story totally gives away its twist ending within the first several pages. It's still cute, but it gets a bit tedious waiting for the obvious "big reveal."

The two remaining stories are a notch below the others, dishing out more romantic formulas but failing to apply any amusing quirks. "Rainy Afternoons" relies on the very familiar trope of sharing an umbrella together; the idea of it is certainly sweet, but it would not be the first ... or second ... or even tenth time that someone has used a "cute couple in the rain" image. This is also the other story that makes use of a not-very-surprising twist, and once all the key elements are in play, it's just a matter of mechanically connecting the dots to the predictable ending. The last story, "In the Style of Second Love," happens to be Tanemura's debut work—and it shows. This is as routine as love stories get: some girl dislikes some guy, but then she realizes she kind of likes him after all. It's an interesting look at an artist's beginnings, but very rough around the edges.

Even Tanemura's signature artistic style is a little lacking in these early stories of hers—"Second Love" is the most obvious, looking more like an amalgam of early-to-mid-90's influences than anything she actually drew herself. Fortunately, the rest of the book is more confidently drawn: sparkly-eyed characters, fancy background patterns, and busy layouts all show that her style was pretty much set in stone early on. Surprisingly, these works are a little more readable than her current output, if only because Tanemura hadn't yet gone completely berserk with screentones during this period. There are still other opportunities for confusion, though, such as the extreme similarity of character designs (just look at the sketches in the back for disturbing proof that all the boys look the same), and panels that tend to cram up against each other without regard for borders or margins. While the art can be distinctive and appealing, it does take some effort and "shôjo reading skills" to decipher what's going on.

Fortunately, the translated text isn't quite as difficult to decode, as most of it relies on middle- or high-school dialogue anyway. There are times when sentence structure gets awkward—usually when referring to someone or something indirectly—but most times, the characters speak in straightforward terms about their emotions. For stories like these, it's a never-ending tightrope walk between sweet and saccharine. Surprisingly, a brief cultural glossary explains some of the Japanese terms brought up in the book (not very common for Viz publications), but sound effects still get the full-deletion treatment and have English equivalents in their place.

Any fan of shôjo manga should probably be familiar with Arina Tanemura, but as for familiarity with Short-Tempered Melancholic itself, that's not exactly essential knowledge. This is obviously not her greatest achievement—debut chapters and early one-shots rarely are—and it's really just a serving of light, easily digestible romance. But sometimes, light and easily digestible is exactly what a balanced manga diet calls for: in between the depressing serious artsy stuff and hyperkinetic megahit action-adventure lies a niche for innocent schoolyard love, complete with sparkly eyes and trembling confessions. It's worth a casual read for those who have the time and inclination—just don't expect too much.

Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Art : B

+ Unabashedly sweet and idealistic, as well as providing a look into the early style of one of the genre's most recognizable artists.
Employs a host of romantic clichés and formulae that more discerning readers would probably rather avoid.

Story & Art: Arina Tanemura

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Short-Tempered Melancholic (manga)

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